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In Praise of Dorsey : Despite its poor image among outsiders, a parent says the school provides blacks with some of the district's best educational opportunities.

March 06, 1994|MARY REESE BOYKIN | Mary Reese Boykin is surprised at how often she hears people put down Dorsey High School, in the Crenshaw area. One of the students in the Inglewood High School teacher's English class told her once, "I can't believe you send your daughter to that gangster school." Boykin says she wouldn't send her ninth-grader, Desiree, anywhere else. and

Dorsey High School has gotten more than its share of bad publicity lately. I realized how distorted its image is when a friend said she would just as soon send her daughter to Dorsey as push her into a fire.

Her reaction isn't unusual. In fact, since a shooting in the registration line on the first day of school, I have been asked, "When are you taking Desiree out of that school?"

I'm not.

Viewing Dorsey close up, I feel content with it, both academically and socially.

My husband and I have talked with several parents of recent graduates who echo a common point: Some of the best educational opportunities in the district for African American students are at Dorsey High.

As I have talked with the staff, listened to students chatter and read the Dorsey Gram, the school newspaper, I am convinced that Dorsey promotes values that complement my home's, like having pride in your own school and community and defining yourself for yourself, even when others fail to acknowledge--or even perceive--your worth.

I admit that my husband and I were tempted to transfer Desiree after that first-day shooting. But a semester later, I am pleased we didn't.

I respect the principal, Dr. Jerelene Wells, and her hard-working administrative staff. A visionary, Wells stays on the lookout for programs that push the Dorsey student ahead.

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For example, she brought a finance academy to Dorsey so students would think of running or owning businesses rather than being consumers only. Students serve a business apprenticeship during their senior year.

A law and government academy is planned for the spring with the help of two Dorsey teachers, former attorneys. As Wells sees things, "If we are to improve the quality of our students' lives, we must teach them how to use their money and how to use the law."

With so much good going on, I understand why Wells and her staff feel baffled--and I can imagine disheartened and annoyed, too--that only the negatives grab and define Dorsey in the media.

I appreciate the Dorsey teachers. When I accompanied Desiree to school on the first day to make sure the campus is accessible to her (she has cerebral palsy), I met her teachers and anticipated a good year.

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A few weeks later, when teachers James Berger, Julia Coley, Jerry Goren, Marcia Kpodo, along with attorney Marcia Brewer, prepared students for the Mock Trial, I really got to see what an interdisciplinary force the Dorsey teachers are. Desiree was bailiff in the competition sponsored by the Constitutional Rights Foundation.

Teachers held up the name Dorsey to Mock Trial team members in the way parents hold up the family's surname in the admonition, "Child, go out there and do your best. You're a Johnson." They kept a standard before the students--that Dorsey was the L.A. County Mock Trial champion in 1990, finished second in 1989 and was in the top four in 1992.

Teachers put in the time. 7 a.m. practices. After school until 4:30 p.m. On Saturdays.

Dorsey finished in the final eight of 46 participating schools in L.A. County.

And Desiree, who initially kept mostly to herself, developed a new perspective on the law, met terrific friends and found a place to belong.

I like the spirit in the parents' groups. From participating in various groups to volunteering on campus, parents can find plenty of ways to be involved. Many are.

One evening at the meeting of Super Parents, an athletic booster club, parents talked about how they had walked the Crenshaw district--selling raffle tickets and soliciting donations--and raised $5,000.

They were planning the annual barbecue when one asked, "Do we take money out of the treasury to buy the chicken and ribs?"

Another interrupted, "No! That's not the way we do things. We donate."

Joining the Dorsey parents are the perennial community supporters. Twenty or 30 years ago, Dorsey served their children well. They are back to serve Dorsey.

It's easy to dismiss Dorsey and other inner-city schools as the lot of those who don't have the resources to do better for their children.

But my daughter's attendance at Dorsey isn't a matter of resignation. It's a preference.

I strongly feel that we African Americans best rebuild our own communities when we value our institutions, including our neighborhood schools.

We must applaud the good. We must pull our load to resolve the problems.

There is one thing I am certain of: I am at Dorsey for the long haul. And just like Desiree, I too have that Dorsey pride.

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